T’ieh-kuai, depicted always with his crutch and gourd full
of magic medicines, was of the family name of Li, his own
name being Li Yüan (Hs’üan, now read Yüan). He is also
known as K’ung-mu. Hsi Wang Mu cured him of an ulcer on
the leg and taught him the art of becoming immortal. He was
canonized as Rector of the East. He is said to have been of
commanding stature and dignified mien, devoting himself
solely to the study of Taoist lore. Hsi Wang Mu made him a
present of an iron crutch, and sent him to the capital to
teach the doctrine of immortality to Han Chung-li.
is also identified with Li Ning-yang, to whom Lao Tzŭ
descended from Heaven in order to instruct him in the wisdom
of the gods. Soon after he had completed his course of
instruction his soul left his body to go on a visit to Hua
Shan. Some say he was summoned by Lao Tzŭ, others that
Lao Tzŭ engaged him as escort to the countries of Hsi Yü.
He left his disciple Lang Ling in charge of his body, saying
that if he did not return within seven days he was to have
the body cremated. Unfortunately, when only six days had
elapsed the disciple was called away to the death-bed of his
mother. In order to be able to leave at once he cremated the
body forthwith, and when the soul returned it found only a
heap of ashes. Some say the body was not cremated, but only
became devitalized through neglect or through being
uninhabited for so long a time. The object of the setting of
the watch was not only to prevent injury to or theft of the
body, but also to prevent any other soul from taking up its
abode in it.
a forest near by a beggar had just died of hunger. Finding
this corpse untenanted, the wandering spirit entered it
through the temples, and made off. When he found that his
head was long and pointed, his face black, his beard and
hair woolly and dishevelled, his eyes of gigantic size, and
one of his legs lame, he wished to get out of this vile
body; but Lao Tzŭ advised him not to make the attempt
and gave him a gold band to keep his hair in order, and an
iron crutch to help his lame leg. On lifting his hand to his
eyes, he found they were as large as buckles. That is why he
was called Li K’ung-mu, ‘Li Hollow Eyes.’ Popularly he
is known as Li T’ieh-kuai, ‘Li with the Iron Crutch.’
No precise period seems to be assigned to his career on
earth, though one tradition places him in the Yüan dynasty.
Another account says that he was changed into a dragon, and
in that form ascended to Heaven.
it is related that T’ieh-kuai, after entering the body of
the lame beggar, benevolently proceeded to revive the mother
of Yang, his negligent disciple. Leaning on his iron staff
and carrying a gourd of medicines on his back he went to
Yang’s house, where preparations were being made for the
funeral. The contents of the gourd, poured into the mouth,
revived the dead woman. He then made himself known, and,
giving Yang another pill, vanished in a gust of wind. Two
hundred years later he effected the immortalization of his
disciple. During his peregrinations on earth he would hang a
bottle on the wall at night and jump into it, emerging on
the following morning. He frequently returned to earth, and
at times tried to bring about the transmigration of others.
example is the case of Ch’ao Tu, the watchman.
T’ieh-kuai walked into a fiery furnace and bade Ch’ao
follow. The latter, being afraid of imitating an act
evidently associated with the supernatural world of evil
spirits, refused to do so. T’ieh-kuai then told Ch’ao to
step on to a leaf floating on the surface of the river,
saying that it was a boat that would bear him across safely.
Again the watchman refused, whereupon T’ieh-kuai,
remarking that the cares of this world were evidently too
weighty for him to be able to ascend to immortality, stepped
on to the leaf himself and vanished.